Choosing a running shoe can be as daunting as selecting an automobile. The number of models is intimidating, and as soon as you've found the perfect model, the manufacturer changes it.
Many running-shoe stores analyze your stride on a treadmill to find a shoe that fits your biomechanics. Fit is crucial. The wrong fit can cause a multitude of aches and pains.
"We offer a video stride analysis. We watch the knee, the arch, the Achilles tendon. We look for pronation and supination," says David Orr, a former coach at Crater High School who is part owner of Competitive Athletics in Grants Pass.
Pronation is the inward roll of a foot during normal motion. Supination is the outward roll. How much of each you experience during running will determine which of the three main types of shoe you'll need.
To determine your foot type, try the wet brown paper test. Wet your foot and step on a brown grocery bag. The imprint will show whether you have a low, average or high arch.
If you have a high arch, you need a neutral shoe, one that provides extra cushioning from the pounding on inflexible joints. If you have an average arch, you need a stability shoe. If you have a low arch you need a motion-control shoe to prevent wear on the joints from excessive pronation.
"When your legs start to hurt, you know it's time to change shoes," advises Nicki Wright, co-owner of Competitive Athletics, who has run eight marathons and one ultramarathon.
Unlike a tire, it's hard to tell from looking at the tread how much useful life is left on a running shoe: It wears out faster from the inside.
"Usually shoes we sell are good for 350 to 400 miles. It takes 24 hours for shoes to regain their shape after a run, so if you alternate between two pair, you can extend the life," says Wright. She also recommends replacing the insole after one-half the standard shoe life to make shoes last longer.
Trail shoes are made to take a different type of punishment.
"They have a more aggressive tread than a standard shoe, stronger in the midsole," says Hal Koerner, owner of Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland. "They have a nylon mesh on the inside to disperse shock from (landing on) rocks."
Koerner, who has won several 100-mile trail races, knows all about the punishment feet and shoes endure on trails. He has seen manzanita pierce a road shoe and the unlucky foot inside. His advice: Don't wear your road shoes on gnarly trails. Trail shoes last as long as road shoes and often cost slightly less.